Media’s LGBTI coverage during pandemic was inadequate

Media’s LGBTI coverage during pandemic was inadequate
By Swati Singh and Sharon Varghese

The LGBTI community was one of the worst hit during the pandemic but its problems were not adequately covered in the media, observed panellists, at a webinar themed ‘Covid-19 and Beyond: LGBTI in the Media’.

The panellists also felt communication between the queer community and the media is rare and the media’s focus is often trained on a single lens like same sex marriage.
The webinar that was organised by the High Commission of Canada in India in partnership with the India Writes Network on January 15 was attended by six panellists.

LGBTI webinar picture.

They included: Rudrani Chettri, a transgender activist and model who began India’s first transgender modelling agency; Sharif D Rangnekar, an author, former journalist and human rights activist; Manvendra Singh Gohil, an LGBT community activist who began the Lakshya Trust, a group dedicated to HIV/AIDS education and prevention; Dhamini Ratnam and Dhrubo Jyoti, both journalists at the Hindustan Times; and Sakshi Juneja, co-founder of Gaysi, a forum for the queer community to share their stories and experiences.

The webinar kicked off with an address from the Deputy High Commission, Deirdre Kent, who said that the new year was the right time for such a conversation and spoke of Canada’s commitment to supporting the LBGTI community.

“The helplessness and fear faced by individuals from the LGBTI community during the lockdown period was huge. From facing threats to experiencing violence and abuse at their homes, many were distressed, none of which was covered by the mainstream media outlets,” said Rudrani Chettri, the first panellist to speak.
“During the pandemic we saw a lot of people return home, they had a home to go back to, there was a support system for them but for the people of my community there was no such thing,” she added.

The conversation then steered towards the LGBTI community and its relationship with the media during the pandemic and in general.

Sharif D Rangnekar commented that the press has improved as they do report more about the issues faced by the LGBTI community, but they don’t report on the real issues. He further added that there is a focus on certain topics only, such as same sex marriage, while the rest get ignored. “There are sensitive journalists out there for sure, but there aren’t enough who are aware,” he said.
All panellists on the webinar felt that coverage of the LGBTI community is often overshadowed by stereotypes and sees sudden enthusiasm around the release of a movie covering the topic or an imminent figure being in the limelight.

“There was always a gap between coverage of issues faced by LGBTI community people as compared to others and the lockdown helped in widening the same,” said Dhrubo Jyoti.

He also emphasised on how Covid-19 showed that apart from the issues of dignity and equality the very material questions of health, jobs and shelter are very important.

An important reason for the lack of communication and representation between the media and LGBTI community also stems from the rarity of dialogue between them. “We (the media and the queer community) need to communicate before you (the media) communicate to the world,” said Rudrani about the lack of communication between the media and the community.

“Putting forward diverse narratives and showing that people from the queer community face every day struggles like everyone around, with each one having their unique experience and story. Showcasing the uniqueness of queer folks across generations would definitely help in bringing down barriers and focussing on the similarities,” said Sakshi Juneja.

With the growth of media outlets across online and offline platforms, it’s important that the LGBTI community too finds representation not as a separate entity but as a part of the wider social communities.

The webinar was attended by over 120 people including journalists and students of journalism from India, Nepal and Bhutan.
(The report has been written by Swati Singh and Sharon Varghese, students of BA (Journalism and Mass Communication) of Bennett University.)
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